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Gun Review: Ruger M77 Hawkeye African in 9.3x62mm


Ruger M77 Hawkeye African (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)
Ruger M77 Hawkeye African (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

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A few years ago, on a south Texas Nilgai hunt with Bill Wilson, a fellow hunter hammered a big boar hog with a Ruger rifle chambered in 9.3X62mm. The absolutely devastating effect the round had on the big running pig was almost comical. I’ve been looking for a Ruger M77 Hawkeye African so chambered ever since.

After a few years of searching, I happened to find one in the gun library of my local Cabela’s. It’s everything I expected. The Ruger M77 Hawkeye African Lipsey’s Dealer Exclusive in 9.3x62mm may be the best truly international “do it all” Everyman’s rifle made.

Ruger’s M77 Hawkeye rifle is not new to me. It’s not even my first “African” model. This is the fourth M77 Hawkeye rifle in my current inventory and I’ve purchased, shot, given away and sold many others throughout the years. It wasn’t the rifle that made me seek out this particular version, but the chambering.

Otto Bock (image courtesy www.germanhuntingguns.com)

The 9.3x62mm was created in 1905 by once-famed Berlin gunsmith, hunter, and taxidermist, Otto  Bock. As were most soldiers, shooters, and hunters, Herr Bock was familiar with Paul Mauser’s genius work, which we know of today simply as the Mauser, Gew 98, or Model 98 Action. The strength, durability, and safety of Mauser’s design allowed Bock to create a much heavier cartridge, capable of ethically taking any big game on the planet, with no significant modifications other than a barrel change.

Bock took a look at the Model 98, measured its 3.30″ long magazine, and designed a cartridge with a long body and a relatively short neck, measuring 3.291″.  Blown out and topped with a 9.3mm/.366″ bullet, the cartridge was capable of launching a 286 grain projectile at 2,350fps, from a fairly inexpensive rifle. It was an immediate hit.

Some historians claim that it was first used on European deer, boars, and bears before moving to Africa. If that’s the case, it didn’t take long. I found an advertisement (in German) published in Schuss und Waffe in 1907 referring to multiple Cape Buffalo killed with the cartridge. Considering it was only invented two years prior, that was a pretty fast migration.

But migrate it did. Large numbers of farmers and residents of southern African nations purchased inexpensive and reliable military Mausers re-chambered for the cartridge. It quickly became a mainstay among local hunters as well. It wasn’t quite as popular with the aristocracy and their double guns.

In fact, there’s another 9.3mm cartridge whose use was rather telling about just who was using Bock’s masterpiece. The same year Otto made the 9.3x62mm to chamber in military Mausers, the 9.3×74 Rimmed cartridge was also developed for use in fine single shot and double rifles. A lot more southern African locals used the 9.3×62, and more wealthy traveling hunters used the 9.3x74R. They are ballistic twins.

Ruger M77 Hawkeye African in 9.3x62mm
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com.

Even though it was chambered in military rifles, the 9.3×62 was never a military caliber.  This was important, as many of the colonial governments in Africa were particularly concerned with uprisings and banned “military chamberings” from import and sometimes from civilian ownership.

The 9.3x62mm checked all the boxes for the farmer and working hunter. It was plenty for the biggest plains game, and in the hands of a competent marksman, enough bullet for dangerous game as well. There was no question to its legal status, and it arrived in capable firearms most folks could afford.

Serious hunters, regardless of where they’re from, still give the 9.3x62mm high praise. Bill Wilson of Wilson Combat, who hunts the US and southern Africa regularly, claims his custom 9.3x62mm chambered rifle is his favorite bolt gun. Ian Harrison, editor of RECOIL Magazine, told me he “shot a buff stern to stem with Nosler solids” this summer and loves the caliber.

A Ruger M77 African in 9.3×62 was the first firearm to have a limited production rifle with the late great Jeff Quinn, of Gunblast, at his request. Another John Taylor of almost equal fame wrote of it in his book, African Rifles and Cartridges, “if somebody was to present me with a Wesley-Richards double built to handle it, I should willingly use it for the rest of my life.”

Perhaps it’s the cartridge’s universal appreciation that has kept it from fame. That same John “Pondoro” Taylor commented on this specifically in that same work when he said, “There isn’t really a great deal to say about it. Everybody found it so generally satisfactory that there wasn’t anything to start a discussion.”

The 9.3×62 never caught on in the US. It’s slower and heavier than what Americans like and wasn’t really necessary for the game, or the kind of hunting most Americans enjoyed. Plus, by the time that mountain hunting for elk and moose were making their revival, Americans had the 35 Whelen, which occupies a similar place in the ballistics rainbow as the 9.3×62. Still, it maintained a solid popularity among American hunters who regularly went on safari.

Ruger M77 Hawkeye African in 9.3x62mm Nosler ammunition
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com.

Ten years ago, ammunition was plentiful. Prvi Partizan cases could be had for about $1.20 per. Five years ago, when I started looking for this rifle, ammunition was starting to get harder to find. Now, it’s extremely difficult to find anything at all.

About the only thing I could locate in any quantity at all were Nosler’s 250gr E-Tip loaded ammo. I bought several boxes. I also found a total of two boxes of Nosler Trophy Grade ammunition with their 250gr Accubond bullet at the same price. I bought them both. I found one box of Nosler Safari Ammunition with 286gr solids and bought it.

All of those Nosler brands run about $70-80 per box of 20. I’ve signed up for every email update and “Notify Me” list I can find for this ammunition or components, and all summer long got zero replies.

Cases for 9.3x62mm can be made from .30-06 Springfield cases. This process takes several steps and equipment isn’t inexpensive. But if you don’t want to wait on components that may never show up, it may be necessary.

RCBS used to make a 9.3x62mm from .30-06 Springfield forming die set, which sold for about $150. Those are long gone and RCBS doesn’t make them anymore. Now you’ll need to call Hornady and have them produce a set of custom dies, which cost me about $230.

On top of that, you’ll need a separate two die full-length resizing and seater die set, and some way to accurately trim the case. All in all, you are likely to spend $350 to create readily available and “inexpensive” 9.3x62mm brass.

There is a potential safety concern in forming 9.3x62mm cases from .30-06 Springfield brass. If you take a look at the SAAMI cartridge dimensions of both cases, you’ll see the base of the .30-06 Springfields’ case is .0062″ smaller than the 9.3x62mm. That’s a tiny amount, but it’s a tiny amount in a critical area.

Out of an abundance of caution, I’ve limited these cases to starting loads only. That said, per the Hodgdon Reloading data website, a starting load of 48gr of IMR 3031 will still launch my 275gr hardcast bullets at 2,100fps. That will surely wallop any deer, pig, black bear or even elk out to 250 yards.

The M77 Hawkeye African

The 9.3x62mm M77 Hawkeye African splits the ballistic difference between the current Ruger African offerings, those being the larger .375 Ruger and .416. Ruger and the lighter calibers of .280 Ackley Improved and 6.5x55mm. Although capable of ethically taking dangerous game, this 9.3x62mm version of the rifle has more in common with the lighter, plains game-focused African models.

Ruger M77 Hawkeye African in 9.3x62mm
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com.

First, the blued barrel is 24″ in length as opposed to the 23″ of the heavier caliber versions, and does not end with a muzzle brake. That also means that the barrel is not threaded, and the muzzle band and front sight arrangement means that adding any muzzle device or suppressor is going to be a challenging, expensive affair.

At 7½ lbs, it’s also about half a pound lighter than the heavier calibers, and more similar in weight and handling with the .280AI and 6.5×55 chamberings. From there on out, all of the other features in the African models are generally the same.

Ruger M77 Hawkeye African in 9.3x62mm
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com.

Like all of the M77 Hawkeye models, the action remains the identical. That’s a good thing. The M77 Hawkeye action is one of the strongest, most reliable common bolt action rifle actions on the market. It’s a modified Mauser controlled round feed design, with a big ol’ claw extractor and a proud blade-style ejector.

The end result there is that the expended case will be sure to get yanked from the breach, thrown clear, and the next round pressed in and ready to fire, and under the worst of circumstances.

Ruger M77 Hawkeye African in 9.3x62mm
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com.

Unlike the original Model 98 Mauser design, the trigger is not intrinsic to the bolt itself. Still, it retains the three-position safety, allowing the bolt to be locked or move freely, all while the trigger remains inoperable.

The trigger is Ruger’s modern LC6 design. This is probably the best bolt action trigger Ruger has made, although it’s very much middle-of-the-pack when it comes to feel. Using a Lyman Digital Trigger Scale, this one broke at 4 lbs, 10.6 oz, when averaged over five pulls. That weight surprised me, as the relatively crisp break made me think it was lighter.

Ruger M77 Hawkeye African in 9.3x62mm
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com.

The sights are the same as the other models as well. The front is a small flat-faced brass bead. Like every brass bead front sight from every major manufacturer, this one works fine, and works a whole lot better with just a little bit of polishing.

Ruger M77 Hawkeye African in 9.3x62mm
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com.

The flip down rear sight is positioned well forward of the receiver, with plenty of space available for magnified optics. The sight itself is drift-adjustable for windage, and two small set screws allow adjustment for elevation.

There’s a small white aiming diamond with a “U” shaped notch above it, perfect for precise aiming. The wider square notch above is more appropriate for fast shots on moving — hopefully not charging –game.

Ruger M77 Hawkeye African in 9.3x62mm
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com.

Like all M77 Hawkeye rifles, the receiver comes already milled for Ruger rings and a set of 1″ rings is included with the rifle.

Ruger M77 Hawkeye African in 9.3x62mm
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com.

Using the supplied rings and a Crimson Trace Brushline Pro 3-12X42mm riflescope, I spent 40 precious commercial cartridges and 20 of my own hand loads testing the accuracy of the firearm. As I could not find any commercial rounds from any other brand other than Nosler, the variety of ammunition manufacturers is limited to two; Nosler and me.

The Nosler E-Tip rounds printed the better of the two commercial loads, but just barely.  This round scored 1.3″ five-round groups, averaged over four shots strings, when fired from a Caldwell Stinger shooting rest at a 100 yard target. The Nosler Accubond load scored 1.5″ under the same conditions.

My own handloads were the best performers of all, with the 275gr hardcast bullets printing just over the 1 MOA mark, at 1.1″, again, with four shot strings of five rounds each. This is not surprising, as a heavy hardcast round pushed to moderate velocities is always a recipe for success.

Whereas the M77 Hawkeye’s bolt manipulation is never particularly smooth, the tradeoff is supreme reliability. I know of no time, with any of my M77 Hawkeye guns, where I ever had the bolt fail to feed or the case fail to extract.

I can’t remember the trigger ever failing either. There were no issues with reliability shooting this model either, even though the vast majority of rounds I shot were modified cases and hardcast bullets, which made up precisely 200 rounds of the testing. I would have no concerns trusting my life to this rifle.

Ruger M77 Hawkeye African in 9.3x62mm
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com.

The hinged floor plate, although well polished with the engraved Ruger logo, has always been a letdown for me with all of the M77 Hawkeye rifles. The wood-to-metal fit everywhere else is great, but right here, it’s not quite right. The floor plate isn’t recessed into the stock and it’s not flush either, so that there’s a small gap between the wood and metal where moisture and grit can collect.

Ruger M77 Hawkeye African in 9.3x62mm
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com.

Like all the African models, Ruger got the style right with this Lipsey’s Exclusive chambering. There are a few subtle nods to the older, far more expensive Safari rifles. Most obvious is that barrel band. It does absolutely nothing to improve the accuracy of the gun, but it looks right and feels right when slung or wrapped around the arm for shooting. That said, if you don’t like it, a forward swivel stud is also included in the box.

Ruger M77 Hawkeye African in 9.3x62mm
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com.

The American Walnut buttstock doesn’t have much character in this particular rifle, although I have seen more figure and swirl in other rifles of this same model. For any natural product, some will be better than others. It does, however, have both the appropriate ebony forend cap and the obligatory red rubber butt pad.

Despite the slightly lighter weight when compared to the heavier magnum Ruger African rifles, recoil from this rifle isn’t harsh with any round. At its top loads, there’s about 20-25% more free recoil than the same rifle with a 180gr commercial .30-06 Springfield chambering. At the bench, that recoil becomes tiring, but not unless you’re putting a couple of dozen rounds down range. Shouldered, it’s a bit of a push and no more.

It’s in the field where this chambering really shines. Like all the M77 Hawkeye rifles, it handles well, shoulders quickly, and in this particular chambering, provides just enough horsepower to handle even the Black Death himself, when in the hands of a competent marksman.

The overall effect is a hunting rifle any of the southern African colonial farmers would have both recognized and immediately reached for. The Ruger M77 Hawkeye African in this 9.3×62 chambering looks like the rifle that man would have saved for, and smiled wide when he picked it up.

Ruger M77 Hawkeye African in 9.3x62mm
Image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com.

Unfortunately, it looks like anyone wanting one of these rifles chambered in 9.3x62mm will have about as difficult a time finding one as I did. It appears production stopped in 2019, and they are currently no longer available in the Lipsey’s catalogue. I hope that changes, as the chambering seems perfectly suited for the Ruger African.

Specifications: Ruger M77 Hawkeye African Lipsey’s Dealer Exclusive

Caliber: 9.3x62mm
Stock: American Walnut with Ebony Forend Cap
Front Sight: Gold Bead
Rear Sight:  Adjustable
Capacity: 4Barrel Length: 24″
Overall Length: 45.88″
Model Option: Right-Handed
Material: Alloy Steel
Finish: Satin Blued
Length Of Pull: 13.50″Twist: 1:8.5″ RH
Weight: 7.5 lb.
Grooves: 5
MSRP: $1,279 

Ratings (out of five stars):

Style and Appearance * * * *
Ruger gets a whole lot right on the African models. With a slightly thinner barrel profile and no muzzle brake, this chambering is more aligned with the plains game cartridge lines.  Points off for good, but not great wood, and a less-than-stellar fitment at the floorplate.

Customization * *
There are numerous stocks available for this gun and a couple of triggers. That’s about it. The whole point of the wide variety of M77 Hawkeye rifles offered by Ruger is that you don’t have to customize it to get what you want.

Reliability * * * * *
Ruger isn’t known for dainty guns and this one is no exception. The modified Mauser action, the sight setup, and the exceptional bedding all go into making this a supremely reliable rifle anywhere on Earth.

Accuracy * * *
Nothing hit the 1″ mark or below, but as it is, there’s no reason a solid shooter couldn’t take any game out well past 300 yards.

Overall * * * *
The Ruger M77 Hawkeye African in 9.3x62mm is the quintessential do-it-all worldwide big game rifle. It’s relatively lightweight, reliable, accurate and just enough gun. Big thanks to Lipsey’s for keeping this chambering alive in an American-made rifle, and here’s to hoping they bring it back for another run soon.

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